Xin chao from Vietnam!
After a short and uneventful flight via Cambodia Angkor Air, Mr. Chuckles and I have arrived safely in Ho Chi Minh City.
Or is it Saigon?
Originally known as Saigon, this southern Vietnamese city was renamed in 1975 after the Vietnam War and the communist party from the north took over the country. It was then amalgamated with a wider surrounding area to form 24 districts (19 inner city and 5 suburban), which combined became known as Ho Chi Minh City, named after the first leader of north Vietnam as a demonstration of the communist party’s victory. When you speak to locals, you will hear the names, Saigon and Ho Chi Minh, used interchangeably. You would think that there would be some lasting political connotation over who uses which name, but this is generally not the case. Although the city names have sensitive origins, they are now pretty much considered synonymous. In fact, my mother’s family members, who fled Vietnam after the war, consistently refer to Ho Chi Minh City with no apparent issue.
Ho Chi Minh City certainly has a lot of history and there were several museums and sites that I had noted in my tentative itinerary for our day here. However, on arrival, Mr. Chuckles and I decided that our higher priority was to begin our food journey. After checking into our hotel in the early afternoon, we opted to skip the museum hopping and instead went out in search of our first Vietnamese eat, banh mi. We found a place about 20 minutes from our hotel and took a Grab car over for the best banh mi sandwich we have ever had, and for only $1 USD!
In the evening, we went on our first Vietnamese food tour, with Urban Adventures. We had a small group of only three people this time, which was perfect for navigating the busy streets. Besides learning about the cuisine of south Vietnam, our tour also gave us a lesson on how to survive as a pedestrian in Ho Chi Minh City.
Traffic here is next level crazy. Our experience in Phnom Penh was truly only a primer to the big cities of Vietnam. In order to successfully cross the street and actually see more than one side of the neighbourhood, we realized we would have to disregard all the instincts, road rules, and logic that were ingrained in us since childhood. Look both ways, wait for the light to change and traffic to come to a full stop? Forget it. Instead, you simply stick out your hand in the universal symbol of “Stop, don’t hit me”; step out into oncoming traffic; walk at a steady pace; allow the flurry of motorbikes to weave around you; and pray.
We conquered the streets and successfully filled our bellies. Although I have had considerable exposure to Vietnamese food at home, the stuff we had here all tasted so much better for some reason. Maybe it was being served freshly prepared dishes. Maybe it was the higher quality sauces and seasoning. Maybe it was the atmosphere of being amongst the locals, eating whilst perched on teeny tiny plastic stools on the sidewalk. In any case, everything was delicious and we had a fantastic start to our foodie adventure in Vietnam.